William Moreno said the campaign of Internet trolling he and his family endured was as vicious as it was unrelenting. A SWAT team was sent to their Virginia home, false charges were filed against him and he was accused online of molesting a girl.
The “reign of terror,” as he described it, was so bad that Moreno said he eventually tried to take his own life. Now, he and his family have finally turned the tables on one of the men they accused of tormenting them, winning a $1.4 million civil judgment in court.
The ruling by a Loudoun County jury late last month is one of the largest in an Internet trolling case in the nation’s history. The family doubts it will ever collect the full sum but hopes the verdict is a warning to cyberbullies everywhere.
“It’s important to realize that cyberbullying can lead to this horrible stuff that spills into the real world,” said Sharon Moreno, William’s mother. “It’s especially difficult for vulnerable people.”
In a six-day trial, the jury found Michael Josef Basl, of Henrico County, Va., liable for stalking, defamation and intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the family during a period covering 2013 and 2014.
Basl denied the allegations in the lawsuit and said he will ask a judge to set aside the verdict.
“I’m very disappointed,” Basl said. “The case wasn’t decided on the merits. They inflamed the jury.”
William Moreno, 33, of Sterling, Va., met Basl in the local Web forum Fairfax Underground about six years ago. Moreno, who has a mild form of autism and suffers from major depression, said the forum provided a social outlet for him.
As “Mr. Misery,” Moreno posted controversial remarks about 9/11 and child molestation. His comments drew the ire of other users, including Basl, known on the forum as “eesh.” Moreno said the posts were jokes.
The Morenos’ lawsuit asserted that someone broke into their home in December 2013 while they were away and flooded the basement. The suit also said the Fairfax Underground user known as eesh posted a message the same day saying he was going to visit Moreno at his home. Basl said the Loudoun jury found him not liable for trespassing on the Morenos’ property.
The lawsuit also claimed that Sharon Moreno, who had been going through security clearance as an intelligence contractor, was questioned about a Fairfax Underground post claiming that William had raped a 13-year-old girl. William Moreno said the post was a hoax.
In May 2014, the lawsuit asserted, Loudoun County sheriff’s deputies showed up at the Moreno home with guns drawn after someone posted a chilling — but false — message on Fairfax Underground under William’s name that read in part: “I JUST SHOT MY PARENTS NOW I WILL KILL MY SISTER.”
Monique Wells, another Fairfax Underground user, testified at a previous court hearing unrelated to the lawsuit that Basl told her he was behind the “swatting,” a claim Basl told a judge was false.
“He said, ‘I did it so that Moreno could make a wrong move and get shot and killed by the police,’ ” Wells said in court.
William Moreno said that late last year he tried to slit his wrists.
After the lawsuit was filed in January, Basl swore out charges against Moreno, alleging that Moreno had made death threats against him. Moreno was acquitted.
The Morenos hope the lawsuit brings an end to the harassment.
“I hope he’s learned something,” William Moreno said of Basl.